New Trier to conduct racism workshops for students

A day of seminars and workshops in Chicago’s north-shore suburbs endeavors “to commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity.” The civil rights Seminar Day at New Trier High School’s Winnetka and Northfield campuses will feature keynote speakers who have won National Book Awards and send students to at least two workshops each on February 28.

The school says, “The goals for the day are to help students better understand how the struggle for racial civil rights stretches across our nation’s history, that people of diverse racial backgrounds were involved in each chapter in this history, and how previous civil rights movements connect with the issues that we are discussing today.”

While most attendees at a school board meeting last night were said to be supportive of the school’s mission and more than 5,000 signatures were collected on a petition drive in support of Seminar Day, others say conservative voices aren’t being equally represented in the workshops. Hundreds of parents and other community members showed up at the meeting to express their feelings, pro and con, the Chicago Tribune reports.

At least one group’s organizer said she thinks the mission of the day is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to give equal voice to “conservative” ideas; she’s asking the school either to change the line-up or cancel the day.

The Illinois School Report Card shows that New Trier has a student population that is 85.1 percent white, 7.1 percent Asian, and less than 1 percent black. The racial bias is already tilted toward conservative voices.

Furthermore, about 3 percent of the student population is eligible for free or reduced-price meals, far below the state average, and about 3.8 percent of students are Hispanic. So the opposition’s opinion that “conservative” voices aren’t present isn’t based on any fact about class or ethnicity, either. The school enrolls more than 3,000 students and will have about 100 different workshops on this day. If by “conservative,” the opposition means skin color or ethnicity, the numbers are dauntingly against them.

“Our issue is not at all with Seminar Day in talking about race; it is the world view that it is coming from,” Daily North Shore quoted Betsy Hart as saying. She’s a New Trier parent who’s a spokesperson for “Parents of New Trier.” She said the group’s concern is that the focus is not on real solutions, but rather on workshops that she and others in the group view as divisive and politicized. “It doesn’t take courage to talk to New Trier students about white privilege. That’s not courage; that is a cliché,” she said.

Research certainly supports the idea that discussing race helps to prepare students for life as adults, especially since race plays such a significant role in our national debate at this time.

Three-fourths of the workshops are being conducted by teachers who have constructed lesson plans for their workshops consistent with standards for their content area and consistent with best instructional practices, the school noted. The lessons, many of which have been used in classes at the high school anyway, teach students about a specific time period or the life of a specific American whose life was affected by racism.

The school also has a long history of inviting outside speakers into the school to speak to students in classrooms. The Seminar Day simply puts that all together under one roof in a single day, giving students the choice of which workshops they’d like to participate in. The facts presented at those workshops will be facts, not “alternative facts,” and they are neither conservative nor liberal, neither leftist nor rightist; they are only facts.

More seminars about racism like this are needed in predominantly white schools across America, such as in Howard County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, as we previously reported.

About the Author

Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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